‘In the bakery it’s hot and a hive of activity’: Sally Hinchliffe, baker, Otley
People thought we were mad, opening a bakery in Yorkshire, in the height of Thatcher’s Britain, when we first arrived in Otley in 1983. Independent businesses were closing down at a rate of knots. God bless Paul Hollywood, but back then the craft of proper baking wasn’t as popular as it is now. My partner Steve and I fitted the place ourselves. We were working on a shoestring, which meant we’d sell through the day and bake through the night. The secret? Well, 35 years later he’s still making me laugh.
When you’re younger, you can do the nights pretty easily. We went to a friend’s 21st birthday party and stayed well into the early hours of the morning before heading back to crack on with the baking – I’ll never forget the sight of Steve falling asleep on the step by the ovens with the loaves still inside. It was quite romantic in those days, being holed up in the kitchen – and occasionally dancing. We built a business together while we built a life. Now we’ve got a team, so our shift patterns vary and it’s a little more professional. But it’s all hands on deck come 8pm on a Friday.
I adore working through the early hours, it’s almost magical. Inside the bakery it’s hot and a hive of activity – music blaring from the radio as we fill the shelves with treats which bring the shop to life. But step outside into the darkness for a moment and it’s serene and silent. In the winter, taking in the icy air and the moonlight can reinvigorate you better than coffee ever can. We’ll always keep the door open if it’s snowing.
In the summer, the birds are there to keep you company as the light starts to trickle over the Chevin. We’ll pop outside together – whoever is working – to look at the sky, as picturesque and tranquil as they seem in Turner’s paintings. The aroma of fresh-baked bread mixed with the morning air makes for a heady cocktail.
There’s always a lull – it hits you at about three in the morning – but we turn the music up a little louder, have a singalong, and then carry on. If I can, though, I’ll head out to do some deliveries in the early hours of Saturday morning. It means I get to drive through the beautiful countryside before anyone else. Of course, if I’m in the van, I’ve got to stick to a schedule. But at the top of the Chevin I’ve been known to pull into a pub car park and take in dawn in all its splendour for a moment. You feel like you own the earth – and it’s wonderful. Not for too long, though, the bread needs to be delivered. And the bakery needs to be open again by 7am.
My lightbulb moment: Award-winning baker Sally Hinchliffe, revealed the inspiration behind the opening of her bakery
- Sally Hinchliffe, 54, founded Yorkshire’s Bondgate Bakery back in 1984
- She was inspired to make bread without sugar, E numbers or any kind of nasties
- She won the BBC Food and Farming Award for Best Local Food Retailer in 2004
- Sally says her bakery supplies Harvey Nichols and cafe chain Filmore and Union
Sally Hinchliffe, 54, is the director of Yorkshire’s Bondgate Bakery. She lives in Otley, West Yorkshire, with her partner, Steve Taylor.
Growing up near Leeds, my dad was in the wool trade and did a lot of business in Italy. We’d go as a family — and that’s where my love of food came from.
I met my partner, Steve, when I was 19 and he was 24. Steve’s gran was a great baker — she passed on her skills to him from the days when everyone baked from scratch — and we still make her parkin and Yorkshire curd tart.
Steve and I love good bread but, back in 1984, when we launched, it was impossible to find. All you could get was stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth sliced white, full of additives. I thought: ‘Why does bread need to have sugar in it?’ Really, it was almost an old-fashioned interest in eating unadulterated food that kick-started the business.
That was our light bulb moment. We wanted to make bread without sugar: real food without E numbers or any kind of nasties.
We set up in a 17th-century building in Otley, a lovely market town near Leeds, where we still are now. In the early Eighties, people didn’t always understand what we were doing. Sourcing free-range eggs wasn’t easy and, when we put olives on our pizza slices, one customer thought they were grapes!
But business soon took off. Older customers loved our bread, saying: ‘It’s like my mum used to make.’
Not everyone can work with their partner, especially when you’re getting up in the night to get the bread started. We couldn’t do kids and the bakery. But we’ve had a great time working together.
In 2004, we won the BBC Food and Farming Award for Best Local Food Retailer. That put us on the map — the wholesale side exploded.
Then, about five years ago, Steve began getting cluster headaches. He wasn’t sleeping, so it became apparent he needed time off. Steve is bubbly, so it was quieter in the bakery. But I made it work. Now, I might work in the shop or upstairs doing the accounts. I’ve done the delivering. I’ve done everything!
We supply places such as Harvey Nichols and the cafe chain Filmore and Union, and are in talks with a supermarket. Suddenly, people understand what we’ve been doing all these years — that it does make a difference what you are eating.
Bondgate Bakery makes a wonderful array of breads every day on site, all of which are made by hand, without the use of pre-mixes or additives. What’s more is that the selection on offer ranges from sourdoughs and rye breads to wholemeal and crusty whites, as well as mixed seeds, oat breads and many more! The bakery attributes their great range of flavours to the time that they take to create the bread, ensuring that the fermentation process allows it to develop steadily.
“We have won many awards over the 30 years we have been open but are most proud of the place we have in the heart of the local community of Otley -a lovely market town, nestling in the shadow of the Chevin escarpment.”